Penn State Men’s Hockey Shakes Off Rust In Return To Play
The clock hit zero and the horn sounded inside the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin, as a dejected Penn State men’s hockey team filed out of the rink. The Nittany Lions dropped both games in their series against the No. 6-ranked Badgers and sat one spot above last in the Big Ten hockey standings.
That was December 9. Finals week loomed large following a holiday break before a return to gameplay on January 6 against the Army Black Knights. It was a disappointing weekend in Wisconsin for the Nittany Lions — with a long time to think about it.
But the players weren’t thinking about the last time they hit the ice, they were preparing for the next time. The date with Army was just a precursor to the toughest stretch of the season. With only Big Ten matchups the rest of the way, it’s a stretch Penn State needs to enter with momentum.
The 5-13 Black Knights, though, didn’t make it easy for Penn State and capitalized on a weak defensive start from the blue and white. Even though it’d been 28 days since the Nittany Lions last took the ice, head coach Guy Gadowsky wouldn’t use the break as an excuse.
“I think you can work a couple of ways,” Gadowsky said. “You can come back rested and refocused, and I really am shocked that we didn’t come out better. I really am.”
“Army played two games leading up to that and they played really, really well,” he continued. “But that’s not an excuse that we couldn’t have done that as well. We just weren’t mentally prepared for it.”
Even though his team came out less prepared than Gadowsky expected, the game wasn’t out of hand until early in the second period when Army scored three unanswered goals, with two coming 14 seconds apart in the first 70 seconds of the frame. The Nittany Lions quickly found themselves in a 6-2 hole needing to regroup.
“We stayed super levelheaded and our emotions were managed,” junior Ryan Kirwan said. “We were thinking positive on the bench the whole game.”
While Kirwan admitted there was a learning curve after retaking the ice after the break, he said any rust was gone by the time Reese Laubach buried a pass from Matt DiMarsico in the back of the net and gave the Nittany Lions a glimpse of hope midway through the second period. From there, it was all Penn State.
Kirwan finished the game with the 13th hat trick in Penn State men’s hockey history with his third goal acting as the equalizer at 6-6. Seven minutes later, Aiden Fink gained the zone, broke to the net, and put the Nittany Lions on top for the first time since 1-0.
“I thought we battled hard,” Fink said. “We got down to a pretty big lead, so being able to come back from that and having that resilience showed what kind of team we are.”
While the comeback should do wonders for the team’s momentum heading into the difficult part of the season, Gadowsky said it’s hard to use as a rallying cry because his team shouldn’t have been down that far in the first place.
Regardless of whether the Nittany Lions should or shouldn’t have found themselves trailing by four, they orchestrated the biggest comeback in the program’s history, and the players are proud. Even though Penn State sits sixth in the Big Ten standings, the players see themselves as capable of beating every team they see for the remainder of the season.
“Every team in the Big Ten is really good, so coming into every night, I think it’s an even matchup and it’s gonna be a good battle every night,” Fink said. “It’s a big stretch, and it’s gonna decide if we make the tournament or not. I think we’re gonna do really well.”
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About the Author
The Nittany Lions participated in a max-out lifting session to mark the end of winter workouts.
Gaines was committed to the Nittany Lions for nearly a year.
Sophomore forward Tessa Janecke also earned CHA Player of the Year and Forward of the Year distinctions.